Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:16-21).

The man or woman who has the confidence in God to be a Christian accepts an unusual challenge! While forgiveness is available to all, transformation is demanding. First, through God’s act in Jesus’ cross comes ongoing forgiveness (see 1 John 1:8-10). One rises from immersion into Christ (Galatians 3:27) to begin the continuing process of transformation (Romans 12:1, 2)—a lifetime process. Most of the New Testament is devoted to the continuing process of transformation individually (Romans 12-15), as well as congregationally (Revelation 2-3).

In the verses above, notice a particular statement: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” The immediate context is in the matter of vengeance. The larger context is in the matter of transformation.

This statement illustrates the unusual nature of Christian existence. The Christian is not only concerned with how things “look” to Christians. He or she is also concerned with how things “look” to people not controlled by faith in the God who sent Jesus. It is not only of concern that other Christians see what he or she does as respectable, but that those without faith in God see his or her actions as respectable.

The broader context of Paul’s statement illustrates how remarkable it is. Christians in the first century lived in an idolatrous world. The empire rulers, the national government, the city establishment, the business owners and craftsmen, and the military worshipped other gods. To be against drunkenness, or lying, or merchandizing people, or fornication, or homosexuality, or unstable marriages, or other common forms of self-indulgence was extremely unpopular. For anyone to advocate such was just plain weird if not crazy! Yet, Christians—to properly represent Jesus Christ and God—accepted the responsibility to act honorably among people who often defined honor quite differently.

Does that mean everyone viewed Christian attitudes and acts as good and profitable? No! Even as Paul made the statement, he said, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” If peace did not exist, it would not be the Christian’s fault! This same man detailed reactions against him in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. His efforts to be at peace with others did not always produce peace! Perhaps Paul’s devotion to peaceableness is best illustrated in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12—the pre-Christian arrestor of Christians became a kind, tender, caring, encouraging person.

How is such a transformation possible? Christians refuse to engage in “payback.” That attitude exceeds the remarkable in dedication to transformation!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 21 February 2008

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